3 Marks of a Faithful Missionary

Every missionary needs to prioritize devotion to Scripture, commitment to the local church, and applying grace and forgiveness to others.

Recently, I’ve seen several articles from famous theologians asking questions like, “What makes a good Biblical scholar?”

Naturally, I’ve been anxiously waiting for a famous missionary to explain what makes a good missionary. But I realized that I might be waiting till Jesus returns. So I thought I’d take a stab at it myself.

Of course, I’m certainly not a famous missionary. I’ve been blessed to work with dozens of missionaries and have known hundreds of missionaries in my short lifetime. I’ve been a member of a church that is heavily involved in missions and has sent out many missionaries. I’ve also been an MK, missionary, and field team leader in Togo, West Africa. I can’t claim to be a great missionary myself, but I know for sure that I’ve met and worked with some great ones.

So—what makes a faithful missionary?

1. Dedication to the word of God

How can missionaries make disciples, teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19-20), unless we are personally dedicated to his word?

This point, of course, could be expressed various ways: faithfulness to the gospel, a diligent student of the word, an expository teacher. When Paul made his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, he committed them to “God and to the message of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

As a missionary and fellow elder, Paul knew that it was essential for these pastors to stay dedicated to the message of God’s grace as Paul himself was dedicated.

2. Dedication to the body of Christ

A missionary is someone sent by Christ from a church in one location in order to build up the church in another location. Evangelists, pastors, and teachers are specifically given by Jesus to the local church to build it up (Ephesians 4:11-16). Hence the entire work of a missionary must be done within the context of the church.

In these first two points, I purposefully use the word dedication because a missionary’s commitment will be tested and will require perseverance. Missionaries are regularly tempted to abandon their commitments to the word and to the church in many obscure and seductive ways. It’s easy for a missionary to consider themselves to be the exception to the rule and cut themselves off from the means of grace that Christ has established for us. They must be steadfast, at all costs, in their dedication to God’s word and his church.

3. Application of grace and forgiveness toward others

It doesn’t take long for most missionaries to discover that their more headstrong teammates are still growing in grace—and that’s not even to mention the local pagans. I say this tongue-in-cheek, of course, but this can come as a rude awakening. When missionaries realize that their fellow humans on the mission field are just as depraved as they are, as well as those in their sending country, they can respond in two ways: (1) grow in bitterness and apathy, or (2) grow in grace and forgiveness toward others.

Missionaries need the “one another” commands in Scripture as much any other Christian, but the need becomes even more glaringly evident in cross-cultural situations.

Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor… Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation (Romans 12:10, 15-16, CSB).

Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God (1 Peter 4:8-10).

Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love — the perfect bond of unity (Colossians 3:12-14).

Faithful missionaries see their own failings and the failing of others and apply the grace and forgiveness that they have already received from Christ.

Dedication to Scripture, dedication to the church, and application of grace and forgiveness—all three traits work cooperatively to compose a faithful missionary. To lack any one of the three would create a dangerous imbalance. And one passage of Scripture, I believe, briefly summarizes all three of these points:

Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25).

We are seeing “the day” drawing near—the day on which the judgment of God will be poured out on the earth. We must call the unbelieving world to repentance. But it is also the day when we will see people from every tribe, language, and nation glorifying the Lamb who redeemed them (Revelation 7:9-10).

All Christians—and missionaries in particular—need to be reminded of these principles and apply them in their service to the Lord. That’s what makes a good missionary.

Andrew Paul Ward

Andrew Paul Ward is an ABWE missionary to Togo, West Africa, sent from Grace Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Andrew is the husband of Mary, father to Emmanuel, Cyrus, and Alethia. He holds a B.S. from Bob Jones University, an M.Div. from Temple Baptist Seminary, and an Ed.D. from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Support Andrew’s ministry.